Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Saddle Fitter (A Visit to Larkin' Hill)

Tomorrow I'm going on a barn call to Margie Hutchinson's Larkin' Hill Farm in Old Chatham, NY (  This is one of my very favorite barns - it's a bit of a drive (about 75 miles one way), but it's in a beautiful area and is a lovely, professional facility; the horses are well-mannered and kind, and so are the people.  This is a barn where I often see a lot of members of the Old Chatham Hunt, as well (the Huntsman and Whip are both clients).  I always have a productive and enjoyable visit.

Much of what (or rather, who) makes it so is a little dynamo of a woman named Sue Smith, who organizes my visits.  She finds out who needs to see me, signs them up, does the scheduling, and - this is a biggie - makes people aware of my guidelines and their responsibilities.  She makes sure my visits run seamlessly, and it is GREATLY appreciated!

Just for giggles, here's a copy of my saddle fitting clinic guidelines (after each listed entry, I'll explain just why I came up with that guideline).  Note that the majority of these issues sprang from my inexperience at doing barn calls.  Honestly, most of my clients are really quite well-behaved, so my mishaps have been relatively few - but I have learned from them!

Saddle Fitting / Barn Call Guidelines

Thanks very much for inviting me to your barn. In an effort to aid organization and help things run smoothly, here’s a time-tested list of guidelines that I find extremely useful. Please review these, and feel free to make copies and post these prominently in your barn, hand them out, e-mail them – whatever method you feel is best to make people aware.

1) Each fitting appointment is 30 minutes; appointments for a template (tracing) and photos are 15 min. Please schedule appointments every 15 or 30 minutes; they should run consecutively with no gaps.

This rule came about when, at one barn, I waited an hour and a half for my first appointment ... and then another hour for the second one.  In all, I spent 7 hours at one barn and saw 4 clients.  NOT a good day ...

2) It’s very helpful if you’re ready to go a little before your scheduled time - that is, tacked up (if you’re going to ride) or horse in the ties and saddle ready for me to look at (if I'm doing a static fit, evaluation or template). If you have multiple saddles, allow 1 hr. per appointment.

This was a result of having to wait for people to catch their horse, groom their horse, tack their horse and/or longe their horse before I could look at saddle fit.

3) Please remember there’s a maximum of 8 appointments per visit, with a maximum of 16 saddles total.

One barn wanted me to arrive at 8 am and stay until about 6 pm, and just "be available" for anyone who wanted to come in that time frame.  (This situation was also a contributing factor to Guideline #1.)  I'm -pushing 50 now, so my stamina isn't what it was back in my 20s and 30s.  Sixteen saddles, or about 8 hrs., is the absolute maximum I can do and feel as though I still have wits enough left to do a good assessment or adjustment.  Much more than that, and I tend to stare vacantly, and maybe drool a bit.

4) I'm afraid I can't evaluate or work on your saddle if you aren’t on the schedule. I’d be happy to set up an appointment with you for another time, or if another participant has cancelled, you are welcome to take their spot (see below).

When I first started doing barn visits, I wanted to be as nice as possible and accommodate everyone who wanted me to evaluate their saddles (and yes, I was trying to drum up business).  So, if I had a 10 minute gap and someone asked me if I'd just "take a quick look," I'd usually say yes.  And this was the typical scenario:  Owner had to catch horse in paddock.  Horse had invariably rolled, so needed to be groomed.  After grooming, owner remembered that a friend was using her saddle in a lesson, which would be over in about 10 minutes.  When she got the saddle back, she needed to tack up and change into her riding clothes.  By this point, my next scheduled person (who always seemed to be right on time) had already been waiting for 15 minutes ... So I came up with Guideline #4.

5) If you’re  unable to keep your appointment, please either give me 24 hours’ notice (802/375-2298 or or someone to fill your spot; otherwise, please be /ware that you'll still be responsible for your share of the barn call.

I showed up at one barn expecting 7 clients, only to find that 5 had cancelled, and no one bothered to tell me.  I was a touch cranky that day ...

6) Repairs and complete re-flocks need to come back to the shop with me. We can ship the saddle back ($35 shipping charge), or you can come to the shop to pick it up. Time and cost estimates available on request.

No trauma behind this one.  People would ask ...

7) It’s very easy to run late if you’re trailering in. I want to be fair to everyone, but I have to give consideration to clients who are ready at their scheduled time. If you’re running late, please call the host barn or my cell (802 / 379-4137) to notify. If you’re more than 15 min. late for your appointment, you will have two options: You can wait for a break (which often happens), or for the end of the day. I will do my best to accommodate you if time allows. Or, you may re-schedule for another time (please note that you will still be responsible for your portion of the barn call charge).

This is pretty self-explanatory.  I've dealt with horses that didn't want to load (one day, Edie and I spent 90 minutes convincing Lyric to get on the trailer), and it seems to be a given that you'll hit road construction or bad traffic when you're hauling a horse trailer.  But this is just a little incentive for people to get going a bit earlier and allow extra time.

8) Please understand that I cannot bring saddles for people to try. If you can send a template and photos to the shop prior to my visit (or if you have tried a specific saddle someone bought from us and you know it works for you and your horse), I can bring one saddle per person, with a maximum of 2 saddles total. Please be aware that I can bring only new or demo saddles.  Another option is to ship saddles down based on your tracings and photos, and I will evaluate the saddles when I come.  If you’re unsure of your ability to take an accurate template and photos, I’m happy to do it for you (there is a $35 charge), and send (or you can pick up) saddles for trial.

- couple of times, I did try bringing a selection of saddles.  Unfortunately, I drive a crew-cab pick-up with an open bed, so my space is limited (particularly since I also need to bring tools, a table, and paperwork; plus, I usually have to bring multiple saddles back to the shop for repairs, strip flocks, or to sell on consignment).  Our inventory is quite large, so even if I stuck to new saddles, I still wouldn't have enough room.  And saddles are amazingly easy to lose when you're schlepping 12 or 14 of them here and there ...

9) Note to the organizer: It’s helpful to me to receive a schedule three or four days prior to my visit, with each person’s name, time, description of service needed (i.e., template and photos, re-flock, evaluation), and e-mail address or phone number (form below). That way, I can contact each person to confirm and save you a little organizational work!

It's helpful for me to touch base with each customer to re-confirm their time and the service requested.  Sometimes, people won't know that I do templates and photos, or are under the misconception that I'll be bringing saddles for people to try.  This just helps get all my ducks in a row.

So off to Larkin' Hill tomorrow for 7 clients.  It's nice to say that I'm really looking forward to it!

No comments: